Psychologist reveals the neurological impact of giving and receiving compliments

Women exchanging compliments. (Getty Images)
Are compliments a part of your day-to-day life? (Getty Images)

Did you know that giving and receiving compliments, when done regularly, does far more for our overall wellbeing than just providing some quick flattery?

Engaging in these acts of kindness on a regular basis (following World Kindness Day which fell earlier this week), really is worth it for the very real neurological impact it has on our brains and us.

That said, one in 10 Brits have never given or received a compliment, according to a new study – something that needs to change (when done genuinely, of course).

And looking at the UK, when 1,5000 British adults were asked where is home to the most kind and complementary people, the majority vote (10%) said London. This may come as a surprise for those who believe 'it's much friendlier up north'...

Though Liverpool and Manchester did come in second place, and Newcastle third.

Here, Dr Ritika Suk Birah, HCPC accredited consultant counselling psychologist sheds some light on what actually goes on in our brains when exchanging compliments.

Senior friends walking in public park
Compliments both big and small can have a positive effect. (Getty Images)

The neurological impact of compliments

The most common emotions associated with well-intentioned compliments are happiness (43%), confidence (22%) and pride (21%), according to the study. Although in true British fashion, 20% of us do feel somewhat awkward, 17% feel embarrassed and 5% of Brits panic in the face of a compliment.

But while there's definitely a time and place for compliments, for those that are sincere and kind, it's probably worth us getting over any awkwardness to reap the benefits.

"When we smile and compliment each other it can have several beneficial effects on our self-esteem and overall wellbeing. Compliments serve as external validation reaffirming our sense of self-worth and competence," says the psychologist, enlisted by ScS, which conducted the survey.

"We can use neuroscience to understand that compliments ignite brain regions associated with reward and positive self-perception, such as the striatum and medial prefrontal cortex."

"These neural activities trigger the release of endorphins and serotonin, two neurotransmitters known for their role in fostering feelings of joy, contentment and emotional wellbeing."

And whether you're the one dishing them out, or flattered by one you've received, the benefits work both ways.

happy smiling confident woman
Compliments positively ignite brain regions associated with self-perception. (Getty Images)

"Receiving compliments can create a psychological positive feedback loop. When we feel good about ourselves, we are more likely to engage in positive behaviours, such as setting and achieving goals, which, in turn, reinforces our self-esteem," explains Dr Suk Birah.

"The act of giving compliments constructs a culture of mutual appreciation and respect, we strengthen social bonds and nurture positive interpersonal relationships."

Of course, we shouldn't need compliments all the time just to like ourselves, but they can certainly come as a welcome addition. "Compliments have transformative power in creating happiness, improving our overall sense of wellbeing which can lead to a more positive and emotionally fulfilling social environment," says Dr Suk Birah.

What was the last compliment you received or gave to someone else?

Read more: Half of women believe they’re just entering their 'confidence era'